Emma Tucker has never been afraid to move outside her comfort zone. The new editor-in-chief of The Wall Street Journal remembers how as a teenager she left the small town of Lewes in East Sussex to further her education in New Mexico before spending time teaching in Bogota.
“This was in an era that I didn’t have a credit card and no email and off I went to the other side of the world,” she tells host Charlotte Ricca on the latest episode of FIPP’s Media Unscripted podcast. “It was an extraordinarily exciting thing to do between the ages of 16 and 20,” she says. “Nothing bad happened and that was a good lesson for me – you can do these things.”
Tucker’s determination and bravery has stood her in great stead as she’s forged a pioneering career path in journalism. After being appointed as the first female editor of The Sunday Times since 1901 in 2020, she was announced as the first women editor of the Wall Street Journal in December last year, taking up her new position in February.
Under Tucker’s leadership, The Sunday Times experienced substantial growth in subscriptions, with digital readership more than doubling. The Times and The Sunday Times saw its digital subscriptions grow from 320,000 at end of 2019 to approximately 450,000 by the end of September 2022, an increase of more than 40%.
Key to Tucker’s success has been her belief that, as an editor, you should dare to be different. “You have to have the confidence to go your own way because Fleet Street can be a real force whereby everyone is looking at each other while thinking of the wider picture and their readers,” she says.
“So, you have to have the courage not be anxious when your front page is widely different from the other newspapers. These days that is less and less important given that our competition is not the other newspapers anymore, it’s the whole of the internet and it is people’s time. You now have the world at your fingertips via your phone so you have to give people a good reason to read your newspaper and it can’t just be that we have a better story than one of our rivals.”
The importance of being decisive and delegating
For Tucker, the most important part of being an editor is the ability to make decisions quickly and decisively.
“Mostly being an editor is being able to make decisions – you just need to able to say yes or no. And you need to do it efficiently,” she says. “If there is any bravery in the job that’s where it comes in because sometimes you have to decide to publish something that you know will annoy people and lead to consequences and you have to have the courage to back your reporters. I would never publish if I wasn’t a 100% convinced it was the right thing to do, but nevertheless even if I’m convinced I often do it knowing there is a risk attached to it.”
Asked what sort of leader she is, Tucker says she’s anything but a tyrant. “I have a really open-door approach. It’s not me being some sort of saint. If people want to come and talk to me, they can. It’s the best way of staying in touch with the newsroom.
“I think in the digital era there is less room for the rigid hierarchy that newsrooms used to be known for. Obviously, there is a hierarchy because decisions have to be taken but I have to delegate more because I can’t keep across everything. At the Sunday Times in the old days there was one print edition but these days there is so much going on with podcasts, the website, the extra things we do in digital. There’s simply is no way for one person to keep across all that. So, I am very good at delegating, and I am quite trusting as well.”
Delegating comes naturally to Tucker after getting a lot of practice as the mother of three sons and three stepsons. “If you’re a working woman, I think you are good at delegating. I delegated a lot of the childcare,” she says. “I was very much around but I had to delegate.
“My principle was whoever was looking after the children was the boss and I never did that thing of hovering around telling them what to do. And I think that was good for the children as well because there was no disagreement between me and the child carer. So, you get good at delegating.”
Finding the right balance
Given her hectic schedule, it’s important for Tucker to find the right work-life balance. Running helps, she says, as does the fact that her kids help keep her young.
“I like running and I’m quite good at not listening to podcasts when I run,” she says. “That’s always good for clearing my head. I make a conscious decision to listen to music when I run. I have quite an esoteric playlist and I like to keep it updated.
“I made a conscious decision a few years ago to stop listening to music from the 1980s because I thought that way, I would get old. I tell my sons: Go on, get me some new stuff.”
You can listen to full interview with Emma Tucker on the Media Unscripted podcast here.